Wednesday, May 25, 2005

The Joy of House Painting and Shakespeare

Last October we bought a new house, my wife’s “dream house.” I only hope and pray that it remains her dream house, because our old house (which we have held on to and now rent out) looked pretty good to her until two or three years ago, when it suddenly became too small. Now I practically need to take an accounting course with all the bills we need to pay, rent to collect (from four sources) and our never-ending adventures in refinancing.

Anyway, one of the great things about this house was that the former owner really had good taste. We love the colors the rooms are done in, only they’re a bit dirty and there are picture hooks and holes in all the wrong places. So my plan has been to repaint each room (at least the ones downstairs) in exactly the same colors. Which is a pretty thankless job, because no visitor will ever exclaim, “Whoa! Look at this room! Did you just paint it or something?” Nope. Each room will look just the same, only cleaner and with less holes.

When I was in my twenties, I worked for a few years as a house painter while trying to decide on which course my life ought to take (and I very nearly hit on “painting”). It’s actually not such a bad way to make a buck and, more importantly, it’s a skill. In fact, it’s the only way I can in any sense call myself “handy.” I don’t think I’ll ever hang a new door or install a carburetor, but I really know how to paint. Sometimes, when I’m working by myself, painting can be almost Zen-like. Sort of peaceful, you know? Like a meditation. Just me and the paint. Just me and the paint. Ommmmmm.

What I love to do while painting is listen to stories, such as audio books, old time radio shows and Shakespeare. That’s right: Shakespeare. I’ll try not to sound like anyone’s despised high school English teacher, but here is a great secret I want to share with everyone: studying a Shakespeare play (which includes reading all the footnotes and background material), then listening to an audio performance by professional actors is fun. It is a great, great pleasure! You have nearly full comprehension because you did your homework up front and you can really appreciate Shakespeare’s vision, because an ensemble cast will make it come alive. And listening to it while involved in an task requiring very little mental activity can make you think you spent most of the day in Verona (the setting of Romeo and Juliet, my choice last Sunday), not your dining room.

My selection of Romeo and Juliet, by the way, was entirely due to purchasing a copy of West Side Story last week and watching it twice (which means the entire score is now permanently stuck in my head). I had already familiarized myself with the Shakespeare play, so I thought I’d give it a listen while rolling out the dining room walls. Lemme tell you, that Romeo was some character. He starts off heartsick over this one girl, Rosalind, and then, upon seeing Juliet, forgets all about Rosalind and fixates on Juliet (who, by the way, hasn’t turned fourteen yet). There’s a stable guy. And his counselor, Friar Lawrence, comes up with a wacky scheme to keep their marriage quiet instead of just calling time out and explaining to the two families that he had married Romeo and Juliet on the sly. Sure, it would have been awkward to tell, what with Romeo having killed Juliet’s cousin, Tybalt, and Juliet’s parents’ plan of quickly betrothing her to Paris, but better that than having Juliet drink a sleeping potion that feigns death and then placing her in a mausoleum. But what a story! It starts off like a comedy and then everything turns completely sour and black. Shakespeare had his A game working. Wonderful pacing, nice plot twists, and the most exquisitely phrased dialogue a human being can ever possibly write. My kids may roll their eyes when I say it, but Shakespeare rocks!


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